April 25th, 2014
08:55 AM ET
9 years ago

Boehner public mocking of colleagues on immigration similar to what he's done in private

(CNN) - House Speaker John Boehner is mocking fellow House Republicans for saying that it's too hard to tackle the controversial issue of immigration reform.

Speaking Thursday at a meeting of the Middletown Rotary Club in his home congressional district in southwestern Ohio, an animated Boehner, talking about his colleagues on Capitol Hill, said "here's the attitude: 'Ohhhh, don't make me do this. Ohhhh, this is too hard.'"

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According to CNN affiliate WKRC and other local reports, the speaker went on to say that "We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems and it's remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don't want to," adding that "They'll take the path of least resistance."

Reminding the audience that he's been working for more than a year to convince fellow House Republicans to try and hammer out something on immigration reform, adding that "I've had every brick and bat and arrow shot at me over this issue just because I wanted to deal with it. I didn't say it was going to be easy."

Public teasing similar to private ribbing

But a senior House Republican told CNN the speaker's ribbing of his own members wasn't new and is something House GOP members are used to hearing.

"If I had a nickel for every time John called me a name I'd be a millionaire," Rep Peter King told CNN Friday in a phone interview. King said Boehner has used a mocking tone in closed door meetings to give members a hard time, but not just on immigration, and said "that's just John."

"He'll kid you about everything - your haircut, a tie, guys changing their vote from one month to the next."

Asked about possible blowback from conservatives who are offended the speaker is making fun of his own members, King said, "these guys should just lighten up and toughen up."

King recalled a recent incident when he was called in to meet with Boehner after he criticized the leadership about not moving fast enough on legislation providing aid to communities impacted by Superstorm Sandy. When Boehner walked in and saw King seated at the table in his office he greeted him by saying, "hello shithead."

The New York Republican, whose district is home to large immigrant community, sent Boehner a letter on Wednesday to say he wanted to support the speaker's efforts to move forward with immigration reform now.

A CNN congressional reporter and producer have heard Boehner use the same mocking tone towards fellow House Republicans that they have to take tough votes on such issues as immigration, in private conversations.

Responding to reports of the speaker's comments, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said "As the speaker often says to his colleagues, 'You only tease the ones you love.'"

The Democratic-controlled Senate approved a bipartisan immigration bill last year that included an eventual path toward citizenship for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. But the Senate bill stalled in the GOP-led House, where party leaders said they preferred to address the matter incrementally rather than in one comprehensive measure. Many conservatives oppose any legislation that includes a pathway towards citizenship, which they consider "amnesty."

Even though Boehner continues to say in public and private meetings that he wants to address immigration reform, he signaled that any action on immigration is unlikely this year because he said Republicans in the chamber don't trust President Barack Obama on the issue.

Boehner's public comments in Ohio reflect the dynamic that's been going on behind the scenes for months. The speaker has repeatedly pressed his members that the broken immigration system needs to be fixed. But the rank and file have resisted, saying they don't want to touch the controversial issue in an election year. Part of the speaker's pitch is that GOP members didn't get elected to just do the easy things.

Due to the backlash inside his conference last year to the massive bill that passed the Senate passed, Boehner pledged the House would only take up the issue in piecemeal bills, and focus first on enforcement. But again, after the Speaker laid out specifics for this strategy at the annual retreat in January, many Republican members appealed to Boehner to hold off because they were worried about political blow-back and potential primary challenges.

King noted that there is more discussion and movement inside the conference on the issue than there was a year ago. He argues that the politics now favor Republicans because they are likely to get Democrats to agree to stricter border controls as part of a deal to address legal status for the 11 million undocumented in the US now.

But he's not confident any vote will actually happen on the House floor. "I don't know. I think it would be difficult. Rome wasn't built in a day," the New York Republican told CNN.

Conservative reaction

Heritage Action, the political wing of the Heritage Foundation, one of oldest and most influential conservative think tanks, was critical of the speaker's comments.

"The Republican Party should be large enough for fact-based policy debates. Unfortunately, John Boehner is more interested in advancing the agenda of high-powered DC special interests than inspiring Americans with a policy vision that allows freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society to flourish," said Heritage Action chief executive officer Michael A. Needham, in a statement.

Boehner has become increasingly outspoken in public in recent months against some of the influential DC-based conservative groups, such as Heritage Action, which have strong ties to the tea party movement and other grassroots activists.

Key races to watch in 2014

With Congress on recess, Boehner is back in his district this week, ahead of the May 6 Ohio primary, when he once again faces multiple party challengers, including one with support from tea party activists. But the Speaker is expected to easily win re-nomination. In the general election, Boehner was unopposed in 2012, and has grabbed at least 61% of the vote in each of his 12 congressional election victories.

CNN Congressional Reporter Lisa Desjardins, and CNN's  Gabe LaMonica and Chloe Sommers contributed to this report

Filed under: 2014 • House • House of Representatives • House Republicans • Immigration • John Boehner
soundoff (216 Responses)
  1. Gary Sutphin

    I think Boehner is just plain fed up with having to deal with all the nutballs in the Republican Party.

    April 25, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  2. Gary Sutphin

    As in "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore".

    April 25, 2014 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  3. Sand

    It's been many years since the economy created more jobs than it had enter the market, too much immigration is a part of this problem though not so much as the Clinton era free trade agreements. Don't think for a second that any of these politicians actually care about the constituents or the immigrants, they are just looking for ways to manipulate the situation to their benefit.

    April 25, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  4. Dr veruju

    I am glad that the republicans are obstructing this so called immigration reform it's the one good thing they are doing.

    April 25, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  5. Hogan's Goat

    "A lot of Republican bashing......" Yeah, why are we blaming the guys who caused the mess by overspending? SO unfair, since they actually did it. They should be given a Republican Free Pass© like Nixon and Reagan. Why can't we just blame the guy cleaning up after them and give them another chance at our wallets?

    April 25, 2014 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  6. Rudy NYC

    Independent to Avoid Ignorance

    A lot of Republican bashing........Let's not forget that Obama had the House and Senate and could pass whatever he wanted for his 1st 2 years!!! and all we got was the lousy ACA.....
    Conservatives love telling that "two year majority" lie. The filibuster proof Senate lasted all of about two months. It began in June 2009 when that comedian guy in Minnesota finally won his court battle against his Republican Senate challenger and was finally sworn in. The majority ended in August 2009 when Ted Kennedy passed away.

    Oh, yeah. Let's not forget about Tea Party darling Sen. Scott Brown who won a specail election in January 2010, which put an official end to the 60-vote majority.

    Oh, yeah, Did I forget to mention Sen. Joe Lieberman, who Republicans count as one of teh 60 votes, was consistently voting with Republicans? Joe was about as anti-Obama as any Republican.

    April 25, 2014 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  7. Amazed

    Speaker Boehner: We have 100s of thousands of entry level workers (e.g. high school graduating class of 2014), existing US workers who are low-skilled looking for jobs – the manual labor jobs that the illegal aliens do.

    Is it too hard for you to comprehend that even if you permit 10 million guest workers a year, big business on Wall Street and small business on Main Street will complain about a lack of labor? They mean lack of labor who will work for peanuts, putting a drain on US federal, state and local budgets. Anyone home?

    April 25, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  8. sbbw

    He's probably right seeing as how the signature accomplishment of john boehners congress has been earning the US a credit score reduction. They have accomplished NOTHING useful whatsoever

    April 25, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  9. Bob

    It is simple GOP and Dem's. First pass E-Verify with huge fines, jail and loss of business license for violations thus letting America know there will never be another amnesty (no matter what name you give it). Then stop referring to illegal aliens as immigrants or undocumented because the are in fact illegal aliens according to our government code. Then put those who are here legally at the top of the list for citizenship NOW talk about reform and you will get somewhere.

    April 25, 2014 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  10. HillClimber

    Want immigration reform? Get rid of the aliens! Use eVerify to preclude work, RealID to stop access to social services and prevent aliens from entering our classrooms. We already have the laws on the books, enforce those laws. The American people have said loudly that we will not tolerate the alien invasion of America, but our politicians somehow think that this is an opportunity to get more votes. We need to clean up America NOW!

    April 25, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  11. sly

    The Party of Stupid has out dumbed themselves on this one.

    The Republcians won't address immigration reform because "its too complicated for us"?

    As conservative magazine Forbes reported: "The 10 least educated states voted for Romney. 9 of 10 highest educated states voted for President Obama".

    Simply put: Intelligent people vote for progressive Democrats.

    April 25, 2014 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  12. Larry L

    "Ancient Texan" you must in fact be ancient. You live in a world of delusion. President Obama, remaining on the same path, will deport more illegal immigrants than President Bush. But he is not motivated by hate and racism. He is not in favor of the ridiculous concept of deporting 11 million people, many of them children who are by law citizens. He is not prepared to deport good citizens who have lived here all of their lives and helped build their communities.

    April 25, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  13. Bruce

    I have a great idea. Let's enforce the system currently in place. If you're an illegal alien you get sent back. No welfare, no health care, no free education. And if you have kids here, they go back with you. Heartless? NO. There are thousands of people that spend a lot of money and many years trying to become legal citizens of this country. They take more pride in that than most natural born Americans. And then we slap them in the face by allowing illegals to just become citizens. BS. Grow a pair and do your job. Or retire from Congress.

    April 25, 2014 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  14. Mark Harris

    Boehner was right in January when he said that Obama won't enforce existing laws, so there is no reason to believe he would enforce new ones.

    We can discuss reform when our president starts following the rule of law.

    April 25, 2014 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  15. denverboy

    Not often if ever am I in the Speakers corner but John is pointing out a GOP trait over the past 6 years that prevents real legislation from happening .. That Trait being the GOP will not tackle hard issues , yet instead they prevent any movement towards resolutions to National issues out of fear .. Fear there conservative base will not like the outcome of working a piece of legislation that is compromise and not 100% how the GOP want it .. In other words the GOP can't bring themselves to engage in the Legislative process due to there unwillingness to do what the House has done since the inception of the Nation ..... Compromise ... it's how Congress works and that is just a fact of democracy . Now if they would rather not engage in the democratic process ... Well no one is keeping them in the United States . The GOP seems to have nothing but praise for Vlad Putin perhaps they should move to Moscow .. Im sure they will find a unwillingness to compromise from Vlad baby that fit there own style ...

    April 25, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  16. Rudy NYC


    Give them a green card (eventually) after they go through background checks and pay a fine for being in the country illegally. Allow them to work legally and pay taxes, but no one who was illegal should have a path to citizenship.

    If this is all about not having to live in the shadows and having a better life than they left, which I have nothing against, that should be enough. It becomes political when you add citizenship to the mix, because whatever political party appears to have championed that citizenship is salivating over the prospect of millions of new citizens voting for their party. Keep the politics out of it and let these people be productive members of society, without voting rights.
    Have you considered the consequences of your idea to not grant them citizenship? You will create a bipolar society. You will create a large demographic that has no rights, yet are expected to pay taxes just like everyone else. I suppose a cynic would say that the illegals would eventually all die off, leaving their natural-born offspring behind. But, a lot of people want to deny those people citizenship, too.

    April 25, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  17. Richad

    Boehner is a joke, and wont be speaker much longer. hopefully wont be in politics much longer either.

    How about concentrating on American citizens first and foremost?

    April 25, 2014 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  18. joe

    Why would any GOP member want to tackle immigration reform this year? With Reid controlling the Senate, it will just be a way to divide and hurt the GOP. Harry will hold up any bill and then blame it on the GOP. He can add more and more things in until it becomes unpalatable for even the moderates.

    Better to wait until after this election when the GOP may control the senate or at least has enough seats to matter. Then a deal can be made that all can live with. It still will have to get Obama's signature, but at least it won't be the current 3 ring circus.

    April 25, 2014 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  19. Jim970

    Immigrations, or in reality amnesty, is being fought so much like other liberal causes such as marijuana legalization, gays in the military, etc. They just keep prodding, wheedling, whining continuously until people finally get worn down and accept it, even if it is the wrong thing to do. NO AMNESTY!

    April 25, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  20. Firstname Lastname

    Too hard to tackle immigration reform when you are a bribed corrupt politician? Simple solution. Close the border on the north and south. Bus and transport every single illegal in this country. Do it. American workers can fill in the gap when they all are gone!

    April 25, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  21. seong pak

    So they don't work one year of their elected terms???

    April 25, 2014 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  22. MacNCheese

    FUnny!!!! I never thought mockery could make mockery of itself!!!

    April 25, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  23. Mancy Grace

    Gotsta keep the brown people from voting. Just imagine the horror; all those potential D voters going to the polls. THE HORROR!!!

    April 25, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  24. Bill Deautrive

    Well if it was easy then I imagine the reforms would have happened by now. Instead all that has happened is decades of bickering. Or maybe Immigration is just too good of a wedge issue to let go by either side?

    April 25, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  25. gregor1971

    Simple resolution here. Make the illegal immigrants that are already here pay a fine (i.e. $25,000) per person to offset the increased costs associated with their citizenship. The studies show that over 95% of these people will be a net drag on the economy, so make them pay a fine to make up the difference. Give them 5 years to do so, or kick them out. Those that really want to remain here can do so. Those that want to take advantage of the system and just get access to entitlement programs will be forced to either change their ways or move elsewhere.

    We have great actuaries here in the U.S. that can determine what the exact amount of the fine will be, but if they are willing to shoulder the increased burden through the payment of such a fine, we should be able to make it work.

    April 25, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
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